NYCLU Seeks Records about FBI Collection of Racial and Ethnic Data across New York State

The New York Civil Liberties Union today asked FBI offices in New York City, Albany and Buffalo to turn over records related to the agency’s collection and use of race and ethnicity data in neighborhoods across New York State.

According to a 2008 FBI operations guide, FBI agents have the authority to collect information about and map so-called “ethnic-oriented” businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations. While some racial and ethnic data collection by some agencies might be helpful in lessening discrimination, the FBI’s attempt to collect and map demographic data using race-based criteria for targeting purposes invites unconstitutional racial profiling by law enforcement.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said:

New York is the very epitome of our national melting pot. As a state that embraces immigrants and is even home to the United Nations – the most international organization the world has ever known – New Yorkers should be deeply concerned about the FBI’s targeting of certain communities for investigation based solely on their residents’ race or ethnicity.

The FBI’s power to collect, use and map racial and ethnic data in order to assist the FBI’s “domain awareness” and “intelligence analysis” activities is described in the 2008 FBI Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG). The FBI released the DIOG in heavily redacted form in September 2009, but a less-censored version was not made public until January of this year, in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Although the DIOG has been in effect for more than a year and a half, very little information is available to the public about how the FBI has implemented this authority.

State affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union nationwide today filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to uncover records about the FBI’s collection and use of racial and ethnicity data from their local FBI field offices.

“The public deserves to know about a race-based domestic intelligence program with such troubling implications for civil rights and civil liberties,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “We hope that the coordinated efforts of ACLU affiliates across the nation will finally bring this important information to light so that the American people can know the extent of the FBI’s racial data gathering and mapping practices and whether the agency is abusing its authority.”

In addition to New York State, FOIAs were filed by ACLU affiliates in Alabama, Arkansas, California (Northern, Southern and San Diego), Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

The DIOG provisions in question are available online at: www.muslimadvocates.org/DIOGs_Chapter4.pdf

The entire DIOG is at: www.muslimadvocates.org/latest/profiling_update/community_alert_seek_legal_adv.html

To read the NYCLU’s FOIAs, visit http://www.nyclu.org/news/nyclu-seeks-records-about-fbi-collection-of-racial-and-ethnic-data-across-new-york-state.

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